There was a time when cruise lines would slash prices a few weeks before sailing to fill unsold cabins, and travelers could wait until the last minute to snag great cruise deals. But these days, lines have switched to a different strategy to fill their ships early and avoid deep discounting. Cruise lines are now bundling added-value amenities, or perks, into their cruise deals, either as a limited-time promotion or as permanent inclusions into the price.
Travelers also benefit from this arrangement, as the included amenities are worth upwards of a thousand dollars (more on longer sailings), surpassing any last-minute discounts on the overall fare they could ever receive.
Here is a look at some of the common perks that virtually every cruise line is throwing in to their cruise deals these days. Note that although the actual dollar value of the amenities varies between brands, we’re presenting average figures and ranges.
One of the most valued cruise deal perks, beverage packages typically include wines by the glass (with discounts towards full bottles), beer, cocktails, and spirits, as well as non-alcoholic beverages such as sodas, fresh-squeezed juices, bottled water, and specialty coffees. Depending on the cruise line, beverage packages have a retail value of $50-$100 per person, per day, so on a week-long cruise, you’re saving up to $700 per person or $1,400 per couple.
Another terrific inclusion, specialty dining packages allows cruisers to try out the extra-charge fine dining restaurants onboard without paying. Specialty restaurants offer a unique menu not available anywhere else on the ship, have an intimate ambiance with elevated service levels, and have their own kitchens to prepare cooked-to-order meals.
The most common specialty restaurants at sea are steakhouses and seafood brasseries, as well as those that spotlight regional cuisine such as Italian, French, Mexican, Asian, and even barbeque. Complimentary dining packages are usually a set number of dinners per cruise and may vary depending on the length of the voyage and/or the type of accommodations booked. Count on a value ranging from $50 to $100 per person.
A shipboard credit may also be included as an amenity or an early booking offer with many cruise deals. Amounts vary -- we have seen $100 to $400 per cabin -- but typically, the longer the sailing and the higher the accommodation category booked, the higher the credit amount.
Shipboard credit can be redeemed towards all onboard purchases such as duty-free shopping, spa treatments, excursions, specialty dining, and any other fee-based activity.
Complimentary gratuities have a value of $15-20 per person per day, which looks after your cabin steward and dining staff. With this amenity included, you are saving up to $140 per person, or $280 per couple on a one-week cruise. And that's not nothing.
The included Wi-Fi package may be unlimited (which would have a value of about $30 per day or $200 per cruise) or has a set number of free minutes per voyage. Typically the package is for one device and is limited to web surfing and emailing. It’s a nice perk to stay connected while at sea, and heavy users can upgrade to a package that allows multiple devices, streaming, and social media capabilities.
Cruise lines that include shore excursion credits as a perk often set a set dollar amount (for example, $50 or $100) that will be applied to the guest’s shipboard account to be used towards the excursion(s) of their choice. You usually can't redeem specifc shore excrursion toward any other onboard purchases, like spa treatments or beverages.
This amenity has excellent value for families or friends sharing a cabin. We have seen reduced rates for third and fourth guests as low as $99 per person for a seven-day cruise, which is several hundred dollars below regular rates.
However, since triple and quad occupancy cabins are limited on many ships and aren’t found in every cabin category (depending on the line), the offer is subject to capacity control and is usually only offered on select low or shoulder-season sailings. If you're not particular about when you sail, however, these perks can be a real money-saver.